When I began first grade at Ranger Elementary School I discovered all the boys played marbles at recess. This was a problem. I didn’t know how to play marbles and of course marbles cost money. No one was allowed to play unless you played for keepsies, which is if you lost the game you lost your marbles, and the winner would get all the marbles. This felt like a form of gambling. And even if you won, if when you returned inside from recess with pockets stuffed with marbles, and as you sat down your marbles spilled onto the floor, the teacher would confiscate your fallen marbles and give them to the janitor. Many of the boys bought bags of 50 shiny marbles for $1.00 each at the local Variety Store. For those who didn’t have that kind of money, and couldn’t get it from their allowance or parents, it was possible to buy three shiny new marbles for a dime.
As a last resort, for the truly destitute six year old, the janitor was willing to resell our used marbles gathered from the classroom floor for a penny a piece. So everybody could afford to play, except me. I had no money, not even a penny, and knew better than to ask my mom or dad for gambling money. Yet I had to play, I knew I would be good at it, if only I could find a way to escape my family’s poverty long enough to accumulate some marbles! I became absurdly focused on this quest. At Ranger Elementary everyone looked down on us Sherblom kids as poor. Our house was always dirty, overcrowded, and in a state of disrepair, with ten inch nails protruding from unfinished interior walls. As the fifth child in this too large family my clothes were mostly hand-me-downs, many of which were cheap clothes when they were new, and all of which showed signs of wear and tear over time. My older brothers were too focused on other things to play marbles.
I couldn’t afford to play marbles. Yet I had to play! I didn’t want my family’s poverty to define me. It was my destiny! One day I came out to recess and found a marble lying at the edge of the grass. Someone had forgotten it, or dropped it running for the bell, so now I too could play. I approached the game very carefully. I chose one of the smaller boys, Paul, and we played, but I lost. Paul shot his marble and won my marble. I was doomed to no money and no marbles. Paul lent me a marble so I could keep playing, and this time I won. By the end of recess I had played dozens of games of marbles and miraculously had won more than I lost. I went back to class with two warm marbles nestled in my pocket. Every recess thereafter I played and every recess I got better. I brought an intensity and focus that few could to playing marbles. I was passionate and persistent. By spring I was the best marble player on the playground. This is my earliest remembered experience of being in the zone. I loved it!
My marble collection grew to several hundred marbles. I began to sell them back to the other boys, two marbles for a penny, undercutting the janitor by half, and virtually eliminating any competition from the Variety store with their new marbles at $.02 to $.03 cents each. Since my prices were the best in town, everybody bought marbles from me. Most days after school my pockets bulged with marbles and increasingly with money. I began to buy my own used books, at a nickel or dime each, so now I had my own books and some spending money. I no longer thought of myself as poor. I had resources. By the end of third grade it was no longer cool to play marbles at recess, but by then I had spent some of my new found wealth, at my mother’s urging had opened a bank account, and had saved $18 from marble sales, plus I gave over 3000 marbles to my younger brothers Stevie and Paul. My sense of the possible skyrocketed! I was an entrepreneur. I had a facility for money making, for understanding how money works, for making my way in the world, in short, for success. Much I would later accomplish in life took root in that moment. I would never again neglect the power of passion and persistence.